*UPDATE, 27 July: 100+ HIV/AIDS and human rights organizations - including WITNESS, Human Rights Watch, and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance - co-sign a letter to the Royal Government of Cambodia expressing "deep concern about the discriminatory and potentially life-threatening treatment of HIV-affected families from the Borei Keila community." The statement says that "there has been no consideration of the impact on health of the poor living conditions at Tuol Sambo [the relocation site]" and notes that the risk to those living with HIV can be life threatening. The organizations are calling on the Royal Cambodian Government to cease moving HIV-affected families to Tuol Sambo; ensure full access to quaiity medical services for those families; and improve conditions at Tuol Sambo to meet minimum standards for adequate shelter, sanitation, and clean water. Read the full statement here and continue reading this blog post to learn how you can take action.
7 May, Original Post: In the center of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, are two green sheds. For two years, the green sheds have been a makeshift shelter to 47 families, 32 of which are affected by HIV/AIDS. They were relocated here after their homes nearby were demolished to make way for apartment complexes and commercial enterprises as part of a land concession agreement. At the time, the green sheds were presented as a temporary measure by the government who promised to solve their housing situation.
The families of the green sheds live in appalling conditions and the land sits precariously on the construction site for Cambodia's new Ministry of Tourism.
As new apartments rise around where their homes once stood, some residents here qualify for these new apartments under a 2003 agreement, however the community contends it has not been screened for eligibility. This month, plans are to forcibly evict and to move the families 20 kilometers outside the city to Toul Sambo - away from schools, work and the hospitals and medicines many need to survive - where living conditions are not adequate even for perfectly healthy individuals.
WITNESS partner, LICADHO, in its campaign work on forced evictions, takes us to Borei Keila to meet the residents living in the green sheds who are resisting this relocation.
LICADHO, as part of the Land and Housing Rights Working Group, Cambodia, submitted a parallel report in April 2009 to the UN Committee on Economic and Social Rights (CESCR) on the failure of the Cambodian Government to comply with its international legal obligations on the right to adequate housing. The report sited several examples from throughout the country including Borei Keila, Dey Krahorm, Group 78 and Boeung Kak Lake. Videos and information on each is on The Hub - including the recent shootings in Siem Reap Province - just follow the links.
The CESCR was informed that while there are some limited yet positive aspects to the development of Borei Keila, it is a project "marred by corruption and poor planning" and that "scores of families have been left ‘off the list' to receive housing and hundreds of families live in deplorable temporary shelters on the site's construction zone..." The CESCR is meeting this month in Geneva to review the government's commitments under the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
In a statement issued 6 May, the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik, reported that "the pattern of evictions, affecting many of the poor, in [Cambodia]- and the apparent lack of due process in that regard - suggests that [the Cambodian Government] may be tolerating, even perpetrating, the forced evictions prohibited by international human rights standards."
Instead of evicting the over 1,700 families of Borei Keila, the Prime Minister Hun Sen in June 2003 authorized a private company to develop part of the land for commercial purposes in exchange for building apartments for the original residents. Many of those eligible, however, are still waiting for apartments. The HIV/AIDS affected families living in the green sheds believe discrimination against their health status has prevented them from proving their eligibility for housing.
"From a legal point of view, such as eviction is not tolerable and is in fact illegal. It would be a contravention of everything that has been preached in the last few years," as quoted by Manfred Hornung, an advisor with LICADHO, in the Phnom Penh Post in April. The article also references a 2002 law, which prohibits discrimination of persons based on their HIV status and further states: "All persons who have HIV/AIDS shall have full rights to freedom of residence and of movement".
"Throughout the whole development of Borei Keila the HIV/AIDS affected families have been largely excluded from the screening and allocation process for apartments. At least some of them are known to be eligible for apartments, but have so far been deprived of them."
Amnesty International described the relocation site, Tuol Sambo:
"The proposed resettlement site, Tuol Sambo in Dangkor district, sits on a landfill, and forms a separate enclave of housing. The housing, made of green metal sheets, looks different from other housing in the area. The living space is not sufficient for an average family, and buildings are too close together for safety and ventilation. Both the land and the buildings are unstable. In addition, the proposed site has no clean water, sanitation, or electricity. Such conditions would pose serious dangers for opportunistic diseases. The families, most of whom are living in severe poverty, strongly fear they will face further stigmatization and discrimination at Tuol Sambo because of their HIV status. Villagers in the vicinity already call it the 'AIDS Village'".
In October 2008, nineteen local and international groups, including LICADHO and organizations specializing in human rights and HIV/AIDS, appealed to the Prime Minister on behalf of the residents of the Borei Keila. Among their concerns was the continued discrimination against the HIV/AIDS affected families:
"(We) are deeply concerned that the relocation plan would see a large number of HIV-affected families segregated together in one place at Toul Sambo. Such a segregation - as well as refusal of abode to those qualified for apartments in Borei Keila -- violates the Law on Prevention and Control of HIV/AIDS. They will be known - as they are now in the green shed - as the HIV-positive families, and poverty will further stigmatize them. The result will almost certainly engender discrimination."
For more background on Borei Keila and forced evictions in Cambodia, see these resources:
LICADHO's paper, Borei Keila: Cambodia's Social Housing Project Five Years On
The Land and Housing Working Group submission to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on Land and Housing Rights in Cambodia from April 2009.
Articles from The Phnom Penh Post
Life in limbo continues for Borei Keila's HIV+ families 29 April 2009
With looming evictions, families haunted by an uncertain future 23 April 2009
As prices rise, the slums move out 28 November 2008
Act on AI's campaign document, Borei Keila - Lives at Risk and send a letter to the Prime Minister Hun Sen:
* Calling on the authorities to protect the 32 families living at Borei Keila from forced eviction, and to immediately determine their eligibility for flats in the new buildings which are being built as part of the 2003 social land concession;
* Calling on the authorities to guarantee adequate alternative housing with security of tenure for those found to be ineligible, including access to health services for anti-retroviral treatment and treatment for HIV and AIDS related illnesses or opportunistic infections;
* Calling on the authorities to ensure that the families are not discriminated against because of their health status;
* Calling on the government to end all forced evictions as a matter of urgency.